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Die Mommie Die!

Any movie that stars a male actor (in this case, Charles Busch) as a full-fledged (and female) '60s diva is making an obvious play for instant camp-classic status. But there's a fine line between classic camp and trying too hard, and Die Mommie Die! tightrope-walks its way across that line very precariously. The whole movie is an homage to the melodramatic "women's" noir films of the '40s and the over-the-top big-screen soaps of the '60s (references to everything from Bette Davis to Ross Hunter abound). Busch — who won a special jury prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival for the role — plays Angela Arden, a singer whose headlining days are long behind her. Stuck in a stale marriage to Hollywood producer Sol (Philip Baker Hall), Angela (who looks a bit like Kathleen Turner crossed with Olympia Dukakis) has been having a fling with tennis pro/gigolo Tony (Jason Priestly). When Sol discovers her indiscretion, Angela decides to off him with arsenic. But prim housekeeper Bootsie (Frances Conroy) and Angela's two kids — petulant Daddy's girl Edith (Natasha Lyonne) and loose cannon Lance (Stark Sands) — are on to her. Suffice it to say that before everything wraps up like a plush mink stole, discoveries are made, secrets are revealed, and several characters are seduced. Unfortunately, fabulous costumes and the occasional surprising line aside, it's all a little too pat. It's like Busch (who wrote the script based on his own play) grabbed his characters and plot from Campy Tributes for Dummies; he's not the first to play a big-haired siren in drag, and he certainly won't be the last. He and the rest of the cast definitely give it their all, though — everyone seems to be having fun over-acting and flouncing all over the screen. Priestly is perfect as the Peter Lawford-esque object of desire, and newcomer Sands (who was cast based on a guest appearance on "Six Feet Under") seems tailor-made to play earnest, unstable, libidinous Lance. Director Mark Rucker includes some nice period touches, too, including some great rear-screen projection scenery in the driving scenes. Die Mommie Die! isn't for everyone, but connoisseurs of the films it pays homage to will probably get a kick out of spotting all of the loving references Busch and Rucker made sure to include. The Die Mommie Die! DVD offers all of the goodies typically found on Sundance Channel releases. Rucker, Busch, and Priestly gang up for a fond commentary track, Rucker offers a video introduction to the film, and the 25-minute "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette delves deeper into Angela's on-screen LSD trip. Also included are one brief deleted scene, trailers, a music video for Angela's signature number, "Why Not Me?" (as well as a straight performance clip), galleries, Sundance Channel previews, and DVD-ROM features (downloadable bios, production notes, and costume files). The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format, with English Dolby Digital Stereo audio. Closed-captioned, keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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